Videogames for humans

merritt kopas’s Forest Ambassador curates ‘videogames for human beings’.

For a lot of people, videogames are a very particular thing: a graphically advanced spectacle of guns and cars for old boys and young men, played on an Xbox or a Playstation console, or a powerful gaming PC, requiring nimble dexterity to control a dozen buttons at once.

For anyone paying even remote attention to videogames, this is obviously an incredibly simplistic and reductive stereotype. There are indie games like Minecraft, Facebook games like Candy Crush Saga, mobile games like Angry Birds, and portable games like Pokémon, all of which fall beyond that ‘core gamer’ stereotype.

But the fact that the stereotype persists remains unsurprising when you consider just which games get the most attention. Those games with the largest budgets (for both development and marketing) do often fit the stereotype. This doesn’t mean they are inherently ‘bad’, but they are certainly crafted to fit a certain mold.

And, inevitably, these are the games that dominate discourses around games: they are the most visible and the most talked about. People are interested in the games that are advertised the most, and journalists are going to write about the games people are interested in. I don’t absolve myself from such an accusation—in the short life of this column I’ve already written about Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, two of the most heavily advertised franchises in any medium.

So, despite the sheer plurality of games being created and played, the stereotypically “core” persists. And when there is a core, there are inevitably margins. If some games are getting most of the attention, then some games are getting less. And so the stereotype is strengthened, and so more games are advertised at the perceived core, and the cycle continues.

There are, however, people and projects working to expand the scope of the games we play and talk about, and, most importantly, expanding just who “we” means when we talk about the people who play videogames. In particular, I find merritt kopas’s project Forest Ambassador fascinating and exciting. This isn’t a website trying to promote ‘indie’ games to the same gamers already playing games, but trying to promote a medium to those that have traditionally felt excluded.

Games must fulfill four criteria for kopas to feature them on Forest Ambassador: they must be free, they must demand relatively little investment of time, they require little familiarity with game conventions, and they require no specialised equipment. This inevitably means that most ‘core’ games are excluded by default, and the spotlight can focus on those worthwhile games that are often ignored.

The videogames Forest Ambassador shares are not for ‘core gamers’ but for human beings, as kopas herself has said in an essay on the website’s goals. Sitting someone who has never played videogames before in front of a ‘serious’ blockbuster game like Bioshock Infinite won’t prove how powerful games are; it will just reinforce how complicated and inaccessible games are to anyone who has not played games for fifteen years. Sit them in front of any of the games curated by Forest Ambassador, however, and you might just have helped them take their first steps into an exciting medium full of potential.

(Forest Ambassador can be found at If you find the project interesting, you can support it through its Patreon page.)